On Record: “Midnights” review

Aubrey Smith, Reporter

Something has been keeping pop icon Taylor Swift up at night. 

Well, a list of things actually. 

Self-loathing, fantasizing about revenge, wondering what might have been, falling in love and falling apart. These are a few qualms from Swift’s sleepless nights that she offers up on a silver platter in her 10th studio album, “Midnights.”

Co-produced by Jack Antonoff — an artist and producer who has worked with Swift before along with other artists such as Lorde, Clairo, Lana Del Rey and St. Vincent — the record runs roughly 44 minutes long. The synth-pop album gets brutally honest about what Swift thinks about on her sleepless nights, dressed up with some eminent and enticing production. 

The album opens with “Lavender Haze,” an alluring, almost seductive, invitation into Swift’s midnights. With a beating instrumental paired with hazy synths and breathy vocals, Swift calls for one to “meet me at midnight.” Swift sings about the all-encompassing lavender haze aka the consuming love she’s in, and how she’s continuously facing societal pressure for “1950s s—,” elevated by her fame. 

Melting into “Maroon,” the mood shifts into a dark and somewhat eerie instrumental. With buzzing synths and a clapping bass, Swift shows her edge on a more mature, grown shade of red. The intensity of “Midnights” fades on “Anti-Hero,” however, a pop confessional about Swift’s insecurities and self-loathing. Though strikingly vulnerable, the track falls flat and many of the lyrics feel cheap in comparison to other songwriting on the album — with the very millennial chorus “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem, it’s me,” and the peculiar “sexy baby” line.

The highly anticipated Lana Del Rey feature on “Snow On The Beach” may not have been what listeners were expecting — Del Rey is disappointedly banished to back-up vocals and can be heard only quietly throughout the track. But disappointment aside, “Snow On The Beach” is a beautiful, elegant track expressing feelings of falling in love with someone while they’re also falling in love with you. With breathy, cascading vocals and light strings, the track encaptures exactly what snow on the beach might feel like. 

“You’re On Your Own, Kid” is a wrenching track about growing up and being on your own. Building up from relatively limited backing, the track gets better with each listen as the cutting lyrics sink in.

Distorted, isolated vocals take hold of the listener at the beginning of “Midnight Rain.” Swift sings about an unsatisfying, clean love against spinning, high-pitched synths. Though somewhat lowkey, “Midnight Rain” is destined to be a signature “Midnights” track with its poetic, mesmerizing beat and simple yet intrinsic lyrics, as Swift hits the chorus with “He wanted it comfortable, I wanted that pain / He wanted a bride, I was making my own name / Chasing that fame, he stayed the same / All of me changed like midnight.”

“Question…?” begins with a relatively dull pop beat as Swift seems to interrogate someone about regret and choices made in a relationship. As the song progresses, it builds up to more of a fun paced beat, but the slow beginning lingers on for a bit too long. 

Swift’s fantasies about revenge come to fruition on “Vigilante Shit.” On a relatively bare instrumental track decorated with arbitrary synths, Swift sings about getting even and reporting an enemy to the FBI for their “white collar crimes.” The track is a fun indulgence into one’s vision of vengeance. 

Rhinestones and jewels take sonic form in “Bejeweled.” Pushing past a lover’s attempt to hide the value of Swift, she sings about self love, confidence and her diamond-level value that will never be dulled. With touches of glistening, glimmering and sparkling reflected in the instrumentals, this track truly outshines on “Midnights.”

The sparkling fades on “Labyrinth,” where Swift confesses fears of falling in love as it’s happening. With high pitched, light vocals and a thumping bass, Swift compares her mind to a labyrinth, getting lost in thought and fear. Romantic and afraid, “Labyrinth” is one of Swift’s most raw songs about falling in love to date. 

Swift continues to indulge in her fantasies of revenge on “Karma.” The fun and upbeat track explores how Swift has been a recipient of good karma as she sings to those who have wronged her, with lines like “Karma’s a relaxing thought / Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?” Immediately toning down, “Sweet Nothing” follows. Co-written by William Bowery, aka Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn, who uses a pseudonym for Swift’s projects, the track is a romantic melody expressings the appreciation of simplicity in a relationship. 

Following the simplicity on “Sweet Nothing,” the final track of the record bobs with bouncing synths as Swift lyrically sits back in a chair, presses her feet atop a table and sighs with satisfaction after her master plan succeeds. On “Mastermind,” Swift confesses her fate with a lover is less of luck, and more of her scheming, as she sings “What if I told you none of it was accidental? / And the first night that you saw me / Nothing was gonna stop me / I laid the groundwork, and then / Just like clockwork / The dominoes cascaded into a line.” The mix of fun synths, light harmonies and Swift singing confessionals with a grin gracefully and memorably wrap up “Midnights” and tuck it into bed. 

But the sleepless nights don’t technically end with “Mastermind.” Three hours after “Midnights” was released, Swift dropped “Midnights (3 am Edition),” a special version of the album with seven additional tracks. Adding an additional 25 minutes to the album, a few of the bonus tracks were written and produced in part by “folklore” and “evermore” producer Aaron Dessner

The 3 a.m. tracks produced by Dessner have an edge. “The Great War” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” are instrumentally and lyrically impressive, each staggering with rugged drums and abraded lyrics. “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” deserves to sit among Swift’s most heartbreaking tracks such as “All Too Well” and “Dear John.” 

“Bigger Than The Whole Sky” and “High Infidelity” are two slower moving tracks that bring “Midnights” to a calmer close, but border on skippable. “Paris” is an entertaining, upbeat yet muted track which brings earlier elements from the record back into the mix, which is later closed out by “Dear Reader,” a ballad and caution on where one should get advice. 

Though all tracks on “Midnights” are different from each other and are, as a whole, relatively all-encompassing, it never feels like whiplash going track to track. Each flow seamlessly into each other, without needing intentional transitions to do so. Antonoff’s contributions are impressive, and production is definitely a high point on the record. “Midnights” is one of Swift’s most instrumentally cohesive albums yet. 

What “Midnights” lacks, however, is the same passion-soaked lyrics which lit Swift’s previous projects, such as “Lover,” “1989,” “folklore” and “evermore” aglow. While there are high lyrical points on “Midnights,” such as on tracks like “Maroon,” “Labyrinth” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” a lot of the other lines come off as corny. And while that can be fitting for a pop album, the truly strong lyrics on “Midnights” make the cheesy one-liners, such as, “Draw the cat eye, sharp enough to kill a man,” stick out like a sore thumb. 

Still, Swift’s tenth studio album is astonishingly produced and is just as fun as it is sad. “Midnights” is a defined, solid and cohesive record that will sit with some of Swift’s best work, just not at the top.